One of the last D-Day veterans dies aged 97
- Credit: SUPPLED/CONTROL TOWER B&B
One of the last D-Day veterans who was part of the mission that played a vital role in bringing an end to the Second World War has died aged 97.
Bernard “Bernie” How hit headlines earlier this year after he was asked to unveil a special memorial to commemorate 73 of his comrades that never came home.
Made up of a sculpture and a Roll of Honour, the steel installation "Home Safe" depicts a Stirling bomber. On June 5, 1944, this was one of 16 planes that left the former airfield at North Creake, near Fakenham, at 9.38pm in preparation for D-Day the next day.
On the 77th anniversary of that mission, Mr How, affectionately nicknamed “Bun”, was invited back to North Creake to unveil the memorial to those who served at the base. Aged 96 at the time, he described it as “an honour”.
Mr How was born in The Golden Boar Inn public house in Freckenham, near Newmarket, Suffolk, on October 28, 1924. He was the second born of four brothers.
Growing up in a pub, he was used to meeting lots of people. His early memories included sledging down a nearby hill. He attended the local school until the age of 14, at which time his father sent him out to work.
Mr How worked as a carpenter before joining the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. In 1944, he went on to serve as a flight engineer on Stirling and Halifax bombers at RAF North Creake with 199 Squadron.
Aged 20, Mr How became part of a mission the year he joined on June 5. Along with the rest of his crew, he flew over to France ahead of D-Day and dropped the strips which tricked the enemy into believing the invasion was heading to Calais.
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From North Creake, No 199 and No 171 Squadrons of No 100 Group of RAF Bomber Command flew Stirling IIIs and Halifax IIIs on radio counter-measures intended to conceal the true position of the main Allied bomber thrust.
They used airborne radio transmitters called Mandrel to jam German early-warning radar and dropped aluminium strips, known as window to give false radar readings.
The mission took around six hours and offered a vital window of opportunity to the Allied invasion, the largest amphibious assault ever launched, involving a force of more than 156,000 soldiers, 8,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft.
Mr How was the last surviving member of his crew of seven.
During his time at North Creake, he was involved in 35 operations and served four years at there and later RAF Lakenheath.
Following his military career, he continued working in his trade as a carpenter.
Nigel Morter and Claire Nugent, who own the nearby Control Tower Bed and Breakfast in Egmere, had fundraised since 2017 to build the memorial for those who served at the airfield their business is based at.
After buying the airfield’s former control tower in 2011, the couple set out to learn as much as possible about the history of the base’s 11-month operational life. The memorial is a poignant reminder of their efforts.
In a post shared with the Control Tower’s followers on Facebook, it read: “We first met Bernie back in 2013 - we were overjoyed to meet someone who was stationed here and we had so many questions. He was very generous with his time and we got to know him and some of his family over the next eight years.
“Bernie was a new crew member when RAF North Creake was becoming operational and his first mission was also the first for this station - D-Day. He went on to do 40 Sorties - 187 hours and 40 minutes operational flying all at North Creake. He had a very lucky escape in September 1944 when his Stirling crashed on take-off - ripping off one wing and mercifully didn't catch alight when it was full of fuel.
“We shall cherish his Flight Engineer badge he gave us on a trip to see him at his house a few years back.
“A wonderful, quiet man. He will be greatly missed by many.”
On Boxing Day 1951, Mr How married Hermonie Elizabeth Mary, who went by her middle name of Mary. This was the only day available to the couple as it was the only day the family’s pub was closed. They first met at a local funfair and Mrs How only agreed to a second date because he was the sole man in the group who had a car.
The newlyweds travelled to London for their honeymoon, where Mr How – a lifelong Ipswich Town supporter – took his new bride to watch a Tottenham Hotspur match, an experience which apparently put her off football for life.
Despite Mrs How’s lack of passion for the sport, one of Mr How’s proudest moments came in 2019 when he led out the Tractor Boys onto the pitch. The season ticket holder for over 50 years laid a wreath as Town paid their respects at Portman Road.
The couple were together for more than 65 years and lived in the same bungalow in Worlingham, Suffolk, for their entire married life. Mr How continued living there after his wife died in 2016, and remained there until his death earlier this month. The couple had two sons, Leslie, born in 1952, and Brian, born in 1964.
Mr How was also known for being a handyman around the village, and he followed the local cricket club.
Paying tribute to his father, Brian said: “He had a good life.
“He was a kind, family man who almost never showed his emotions. He never swore in his life, saying it was easier to swear rather than hold the words in.
“He was the type of dad who you could always go to if you needed something.
“He was very level-headed, grounded, and old-fashioned, and the only time I ever saw him cry was when mum died and when Ipswich Town made the FA Cup final.”
Mr How died earlier this month following a stroke on his 97th birthday. As well as his sons, Mr How leaves behind his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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